Reviews Editor / Cars
Cars are Andrew's jam, as is strawberry. After spending years as a regular ol' car fanatic, he started working his way through the echelons of the automotive industry, starting out as social-media director of a small European-focused garage outside of Chicago. From there, he moved to the editorial side, penning several written features in Total 911 Magazine before becoming a full-time auto writer, first for a local Chicago outlet and then for CNET Cars.
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Why do American automakers flounder when tasked with creating a luxury vehicle that has to compete with the Germans? It always seems like Uncle Sam has a hard time meeting muster when compared to anything beyond his own shores. But no more. The latest Lincoln Navigator dramatically ramps up the effort, bringing a level of fancy-pants-iness that is truly world class.
All of Lincoln's latest SUVs have really ramped up the effort, but nowhere is that more apparent than on the flagship Navigator in its top Black Label configuration. The Navigator on my driveway carries the new-for-2021 Special Edition package, a $6,695 upgrade that adds more exterior flavor through a black-and-white motif that includes a black roof, a black roof rack, black wheels and a monochromatic grille alongside Pristine White paint. It's a good look, but man, that's a big chunk of change for some mild add-ons. No matter the package, though, the Navigator strikes an imposing shadow -- and not just because it's the size of a Chicago brownstone.
The 2021 Navigator Black Label's interior is amazing. It's the best-appointed American luxury car I've had the pleasure to drive, and it's every bit as posh as what you'll find at a Mercedes dealership. This one carries the Black Label "Destination" theme, which is meant to represent French elegance, I think, somehow. But I don't need a marketing degree to appreciate this stunning full-red leather interior, which plays well with the dashes of similarly colored trim on the dashboard, doors and center console. While the Cadillac Escalade puts in little effort to hide its parts-bin engineering (you can find the steering wheel buttons on, like, half the cars GM makes), every piece of the Navigator feels special, from the metal rocker switches on the steering wheel to the knurled volume knob on the center console. Nearly every surface is either padded or leather-lined.
Usability abounds in the 2021 Navigator. The large center console floats above a sizable stash tray, with two tiers of pockets on each door and a decently large cubby under the center armrest. While you can option a center console to rest between the second-row captain's chairs, my tester lacks this, making third-row ingress and egress insanely easy. Hanging out back there isn't a big ask, either, thanks to some spacious proportions; there's an extra inch of legroom than what you'd find in a similarly equipped Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class, and my 6-foot frame should be comfy back here for hours. The standard-wheelbase Navigator offers about 20 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row, which is OK, but flipping a couple switches to fold those seats down offers up closer to 60 cubes, expanding to 103 when you minimize the captain's chairs, too.
Honestly, the 2021 Navigator's interior is so well thought out that its only apparent flaws are dumb little things that most people probably won't care about. The infotainment screen bezel is cartoonishly large. The cup holders are surprisingly tiny. The seat massagers are louder than the competition's. The blinker stalk's movement is too soft, leading me to miss the three-blink detent. Silly minutiae like that.
One carryover that Lincoln should be proud of is the engine under the hood. The 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 is the same that you'll find in the Ford Expedition and F-150, and it's a peach. Producing 450 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque, the Navigator is never left wanting for forward motion, as the six-pot provides a wave of readily available torque that makes the whole shebang feel surprisingly sprightly. The 10-speed automatic transmission moves through the gears smoothly. In a majority of operating conditions, the 2021 Navigator's ride is properly smooth, with the only real ride-quality issue coming into play over sharp bumps, where you get some body jiggles, which are only exacerbated on my tester thanks to its 22-inch wheels.
Sure, you could drive it like a monster, but the Navi is best when treated like there are three VIPs in the back. Roll softly onto the gas and make liberal use of the well-tuned brake pedal, and you'll be rewarded with smooth operation. Its body-on-frame underpinnings also bestow it with some solid capability; check the box for the heavy-duty towing package and you can drag 8,700 pounds from here to Timbuktu.
Luxury is costly, and that includes at the gas pump, too. The 2021 Navigator Black Label is EPA-estimated at 16 miles per gallon city and 20 mpg highway, numbers that I was able to meet but not beat over a couple hundred miles of driving. There's an Eco-specific mode available to numb inputs and make it easier to be efficient, and it does help a bit. There's also a Sport mode, which must be some kind of joke I'm not smart enough to get, because under no circumstances should anyone attempt to drive this dwarf planet in any remotely aggressive manner.
The Navigator's complement of in-car technology starts dead center on the dashboard with a 10-inch touchscreen display running the latest version of Ford's Sync software. The on-screen icons are easy to read at a glance, and Ford's telematics getup is easy to get used to, but you can always rely on Apple CarPlay or Android Auto if you prefer a smartphone-style experience. In addition to the central screen, there's also a 12-inch gauge display, which sports a minimal layout that I really enjoy, displaying only the most pertinent information. A head-up display reduces distraction even further. When it comes time to charge, there are USB ports in every row, with the foremost occupants treated to both USB-A and USB-C outlets. The Navigator lacks the whiz-bang, dashboard-wide screen experience of the Cadillac Escalade, but it's still a good setup.
The truck-adjacent side of the automotive industry is no longer bereft of the same safety systems that are found on passenger cars. The 2021 Navigator comes standard with Ford's Co-Pilot 360 suite of active and passive safety systems, which includes blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection. Adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability is a $695 premium on lower trims, but it becomes standard as you move up the ranks. Of course, the Escalade can one-up the Navigator here with its Super Cruise driver-assist technology.
Expectedly, the 2021 Lincoln Navigator is not a budget-friendly conveyance. Its starting price of $77,840 (including $1,295 for destination) only rockets northward when options are taken into account. This Black Label model is about as equipped as it can get, and its $106,115 price tag is quite the pill to swallow, until you realize that the similarly powered Mercedes-Benz GLS580 pretty much starts at the six-figure mark.
If pure luxury (and some capability) is what you're after, the Navigator stands atop the pile of large luxury SUVs. In terms of outright comfort, the Mercedes GLS-Class is probably its closest competitor with its super ride quality. Those looking for the latest driver tech will want to check out the Cadillac Escalade with Super Cruise. Other body-on-frame competitors include the Infiniti QX80 and Lexus LX 570, both of which are rather old underneath their revised exteriors. There's also the Range Rover, in case you want to ditch the third row and add the ability to drive through nearly 3 feet of standing water. Hey, you never know.
Cast against competitors or not, the 2021 Lincoln Navigator is an exceptional SUV. Its Black Label trim brings an impressive level of luxury to the table, while its underpinnings give it a great deal of capability, whether that covers interior space or towing. It's a shining city on a hill, a rolling testament to prosperity and power that makes you feel important the second you slide behind the wheel.